Monzo is an app-based bank that has generated a cult following since it launched less than two years ago. Promoting itself as “the bank of the future”, it claims to make your finances more visible and controllable by letting you do everything you ever need to do from your phone – as well as breaking down your outgoings into categories for better money management, the app makes sending and requesting money quick and easy, and you can also temporarily freeze your card should you misplace it. Perhaps Monzo’s best perk, though (if you’re the sort of person who travels a lot), is that you don’t pay any fees when making purchases abroad, and the Monzo app will tell you what you’ve spent right away.
There’s understandably a fair bit of hype around Monzo, but does that make it the right bank for you? Now it’s killing off its beta pre-paid cards, is it worth making the switch to its full current account, or can you get even more elsewhere? To answer these questions, we’ve rounded up the best alternatives to Monzo. Armed with information about the benefits and pitfalls of its competitors, you should be able to come to a decision about which bank is right for you.
Revolut: Best for foreign bank transfers
If avoiding fees is your main goal, then Revolut is the app for you. Not only does it not charge you when using your card abroad, but you can also transfer funds to bank accounts in 130 other countries for free. Similarly, if you want to buy cryptocurrencies, Revolut is a good choice, letting you buy and hold Bitcoin, Ether and Litecoin.
Elsewhere, there are plenty of features to help you keep on top of your finances (much like those in Monzo) including automatic breakdowns of your spending, tools for requesting money from friends and the option to freeze (and unfreeze) your card when you misplace it. Drawbacks include the fact you have to pay for a debit card – it’s only £5 – and no support for Direct Debits. At present, Revolut is classed as an E-Money Institution rather than a bank, so your money isn’t protected under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), as it would be with Monzo. However, all your funds are ring-fenced in a Lloyds account, so your money should be safe should anything happen to the company.
Plum: Best for effortless saving
Plum doesn’t offer a current account like Monzo, but rather links to your existing current account so it can analyse your spending and start saving for you automatically. Every week the app transfers a small amount of money into your Plum savings, which you can then access at any time by simply sending a message on Facebook Messenger. If you want to make interest on your savings, you need to opt in to investing them with RateSetter, but bear in mind that doing this means you might not be able to access your funds instantly, and your money technically becomes “at risk” with no FSCS protection. If you just opt to put the money to one side (but not make interest), your funds are ring-fenced in a Barclays account.
First Direct: Best real savings account
Formed in 1989, First Direct is another branchless phone- and internet-only bank, but it feels much more like a real bank than Monzo. For starters, it sells itself as the “bank that never closes”, boasting “real people” answering its phones 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like some other high-street banks, you also get £100 simply for joining and its “1st Account” comes with a £250 interest-free overdraft and no fees (providing you pay in £1,000 every month).
Unlike Monzo’s “pots”, where your savings don’t make any interest, First Direct offers a Regular Saver Account with a 5% AER (annual equivalent rate), fixed for 12 months. Should you ever need to pay in cheques or cash, you can do this at any Post Office or HSBC. The bank also supports Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay, so you can make contactless payments from practically any phone or smartwatch.
While First Direct lets you manage your finances from your phone, it doesn’t give the automatic spending breakdown that Monzo provides, and requesting money from friends isn’t quite as simple Monzo’s monzo.me system. What’s more, transactions abroad aren’t free – you’ll pay an extra 2.75% on top of the Sterling conversion.
Curve: Best for staying with your current bank
At one time or another, we’ve all lamented having too many cards in our pocket, and Curve aims to solve this problem without you needing to give up any of your accounts. That’s right – you only need to take one card with you. When you use the Curve card, its counterpart app lets you choose which account the funds are docked from. If you happen to leave your phone at home, it will default to the last card you used, but you can change this for up to 14 days after the purchase thanks to the app’s “Go back in time” feature.
Purchases abroad aren’t totally free like on Monzo, but Curve keeps fees down to 1% and you’ll be notified how much you’ve spent in your home currency right away. As you’d expect, you get a timeline of your spending on all your cards, and the app also splits your purchases into categories so you can see where your money is going. Lastly, Curve offers 1% cashback for three months on purchases from a selection of UK retailers.